As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
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Anger with CPS over closings and turnarounds spreads in the Legislature
High level employees of Chicago Public Schools took an unprecedented scolding Monday on the subject of school closings and turnarounds in the city â€“ and even more heat for CPSâ€™ perceived â€śdisrespectâ€ť for the Illinois Legislature by the absence of its leader, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, at a hearing at the Capitol.
In the end, the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee decided to call for a joint hearing of four legislative committees â€“ the education committees and appropriations committees of both the House and the Senate â€“ and to force Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to attend even if they have to be subpoenaed to make that happen.
â€śWe have been bamboozled again by CPS,â€ť exclaimed Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago), complaining that constituents â€śgot two minutes to talk and then they cut them off, they cut them offâ€ť when those citizens tried to object to a school closing at a CPS hearing late last year.
â€śWith all due respect, it was not done properly for the community,â€ť she lectured the CPS officials. The district had â€śpeople who were actually paidâ€ť to attend the hearing and support the school closing. â€śThey were all plants. They were not from the community.â€ť
Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) accused CPS of â€śdestroying our future,â€ť the children of Chicago. â€śYou purposely close schools and send children in harmâ€™s way.â€ť
Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) who has sponsored a bill calling for a moratorium on CPS school facilities actions, looked at the CPS officials and implored, â€śWhat does it take [for CPS] to understand? Weâ€™re just spinning our wheels. Weâ€™re stuck in a ditch and canâ€™t get out.
â€śIâ€™m just a little bit upset,â€ť Rep. Kenneth Duncan told the CPS representatives at Mondayâ€™s hearing. â€śToday is not a good indication [that the CPS Board] is doing right by the kids,â€ť he said. He called upon the CPS â€śchief executive officer and the chief educational officer and the chief financial officer â€¦ and all those other key chiefs [to meet with the committee] and show us some respect.â€ť
He told committee chairperson Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) that the CPS representatives on hand Monday â€śshould be removed from the panel up here and we should listen to the other guests who are serious,â€ť referring to students and parents who had traveled to Springfield to protest CPSâ€™ facilities actions.
Eventually, Chapa LaVia did dismiss Adam Anderson, whose title is Officer of Portfolio Planning & Strategy, and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Michael Rendina from the hearing. Then she invited members of the audience to offer testimony. Two students took her up on that offer.
Pointedly, Chapa LaVia said the controversy surrounding CPS school closure decisions â€śis now out of Chicago,â€ť indicating that legislators from all parts of Illinois are now interested in the outcome of Sotoâ€™s bill and a similar one pending in the Senate also requiring a moratorium on CPS facilities actions.
Rep. Robert Prichard (R-Sycamore) illustrated the point by asserting that the CPS is â€śnot serving the people of Chicagoâ€ť as it should. In the committee hearing and again at a brief news conference under the Capitol rotunda, Prichard stressed his belief that the CPS â€śis too largeâ€ť to be managed effectively.
The failure of Brizard to attend the committee hearing infuriated legislators at least as much as reports from constituents about what one representative called the â€śchaosâ€ť resulting from precipitous school closings in Chicagoâ€™s minority neighborhoods.
At one point Chapa LaVia had to halt the hearing and remove the committee members briefly to a nearby room just to calm them down. Chapa LaVia later told Catalyst Chicago she had never before taken such action and had never even seen it done before at the Capitol.
Sandra Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn), the Republican spokesperson on the committee, made the motion to call for the joint hearing of the four committees, and she specifically listed Brizard, other top CPS officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as witnesses whose appearance should be sought.
Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Chicago) is Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Committee for Elementary and Secondary Education funding. Expressing her frustration with CPS actions and lack of â€śtransparency,â€ť she said if it takes â€śholding the funding [from CPS to gain its cooperation], so be it.â€ť
â€śIs [CEO] Brizard just a figurehead?â€ť demanded Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), sarcastically implying that Rendina and Anderson were not high enough on the CPS totem pole to address the committee. She also demanded to know who obtained contracts and how much they are paid for school turnarounds.
â€śSomeone is making big dollars â€¦ to manage the turnarounds,â€ť Davis said.
Anderson told her that a fee of â€ś$435 per student goes to fund the operating modelâ€ť of turnaround schools. He cited AUSL, a nonprofit organization created initially to prepare teachers for CPS. David Vitale , a former AUSL board chairman, is now president of the CPS Board.
As to why Brizard was a no-show, Rendina explained that the district expected the hearing to be on the â€śsubject matterâ€ť of facility interventions and that Anderson â€śis the expertâ€ť on that subject. CEO Brizard did not believe presence would be needed at the Capitol.
Chapa LaVia said the committee was â€śoperating on the assumptionâ€ť that the CPS would take the hearing as seriously as state agencies and other organizations do when the subject matter is exclusively about them.Â â€śYou have to understand the gravity of this,â€ť she said.